Egypt plans to abstain from voting on UN Security Council resolution to introduce new Syria sanctions
Courtesy: UNSC

Egypt intends to abstain from voting on a Security Council draft resolution that would ban the supply of helicopters to the Syrian government and impose sanctions on Syrian military and security officials and entities within President Bashar al-Assad’s government over accusations that they were involved in the use of chemical weapons on civilians, according to multiple sources in Cairo familiar with the issue.

One of the Egyptian sources who spoke to Mada Masr on the condition of anonymity said that Cairo’s plan to abstain from the United States, United Kingdom and French authored bid will be uncontroversial “because the Russians are vetoing anyway, which means the decision will not pass to begin with, regardless of the Egyptian vote.”

However, the sources said that Egypt has made its decision to abstain independent of Russia, as it has taken issue with several elements of the resolution, including the “unprecedented” number of officials included on a sanctions list that has not garnered consensus.

“It is a severe shift in the nature of the sanctions regime, [which] Egypt does not want to be part of,” one of the sources said.

Russian Deputy Ambassador to the UN Vladimir Safronkov announced in a press statement last Friday that Moscow will veto the decision if it receives the nine votes required to pass. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that his country will not support any new sanctions against the Assad regime, adding that the resolution “would undermine trust in the negotiating process.”

The draft resolution, which was circulated by France and the UK last December, aims to impose the first sanctions on the Assad government since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War. The sanctions would target top military and police officers in cases where it was established they had been involved in attacks using banned chemical weapons via the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM).

The draft was first presented to Security Council members in mid-December 2016, after which the United States joined France and the UK as a sponsor and submitted a final draft for official consideration last Friday.

The resolution includes an appendix listing 11 Syrian officers and 10 entities affiliated with the Syrian Armed Forces and involved in the production and use of chemical weapons in Syria.  The JIM, established in 2015, concluded that the Syrian government was involved in the use of chlorine gas in  at least three cases in Syria’s Idlib province – in Talmenes on April 21, 2014, in Qmenas on March 16, 2015, and in Sarmin on March 16, 2015. The JIM also concluded that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant used mustard gas in one case in Marea in Northern Aleppo in August 2015.

The draft resolution restricts the sale of helicopters to the Syrian government, because it was established that they are used to drop barrel bombs containing chlorine gas.

Egyptian foreign policy came under criticism from Arab and Western parties last October when the Egyptian delegation at the Security Council voted against two conflicting resolutions on Syria: one from France that was backed by Western and Gulf countries in addition Turkey, but was vetoed by Russia. The Russian draft resolution which was submitted as a counter measure was staunchly opposed by Western and Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia.

Saudi officials condemned the Egyptian position in one of the first indications of the ongoing rift in their relationship.

Egypt was elected to the non-permanent UN Security Council seat in January 2016, where it will serve a two-year term to end in December 2017. It is the only Arab country currently sitting on the Security Council.

Asmahan Soliman 
Hossam Bahgat 

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